Email Marketing for Higher Education – The Good, Bad, and the Ugly


By: Christopher Tashjian Jul 09, 2018

Email Marketing for Higher Education – The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

This article will look at the advantages and disadvantages of email marketing for higher education. Targeted emails are the backbone of many higher education marketing and enrollment plans. They start with a list of potential students and involve audience segmentation, message development, graphic design, and more. That is all before the actual deployment.  A well-executed email campaign can bring in big results and keep prospects engaged as they move through your enrollment funnel.

Email: The Good

From a recruiting perspective, email has a lot going for it. You control the message, the delivery time, the recipients, and the look and feel. Emails can stay in an inbox for days and still deliver their message when your prospective student gets around to it. Your message won’t get overlooked in Facebook’s or LinkedIn’s newsfeed. Here is a quick look at how email stacks up compared to social and search:

What else does email have going for it?
You can customize emails to a level that can’t be matched by other marketing channels. Students do expect a certain level of personalization in emails. There is an upper limit on it though. Our research shows about 57% students are off by overly aggressive* or “creepy” advertisements.
Not only can you directly address your prospects by name, you can also deliver custom content to meet their needs. If your prospects have expressed interest in your biology program, you can ensure you don’t waste a single sentence talking about your accounting programs on these prospects. You can also make sure your emails are timed to match where your prospects are in the admissions cycle, so your content is both relevant and timely.
The more you customize your email content, the better your open and click-through-rates. The current national average open rate stands at 32 percent. Use this as a benchmark for your email campaigns, and watch how the more you customize your emails, the more people respond.
You control the message and deployment. This allows you to tailor messaging and campaigns to fit your campaign calendar. Have an admissions deadline coming up? Segment your list and notify those with applications that have been started!

Admissions professionals can control exactly who they’re targeting in the email campaigns by segmenting their email lists based on behavior and demographics. Most email platforms allow recruiters to select and create lists based on engagement, region, age, gender, and more. If you have a group of students who didn’t open your last email, you can target just this group again with a gentle reminder,

Email: The Bad

Limited Reach
With emails, your reach is only as broad as your opt-in list. Other marketing channels like social media give you the power to take a list of 25,000 prospective students and potentially double your reach with “look-alike” audiences. There is room for expansion with certain Forward to a Friend or Referral tools that are worth looking at
Resource Intensive
To reach their full potential your email campaign requires a lot of experience to manage all its moving parts. Emails need copy, design, and database management to help with crucial segmentation and customization. If you can’t find this level of expertise in-house, it might be necessary to find a partner who can help manage your email efforts.
So Many Email Clients!
Finally, there are just so many email clients out there each with its own subtle variations on how it renders your beautifully designed email. It’s wise to test emails on the most popular platforms (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc.) but in truth, there are hundreds if not thousands of email providers. Many emails these days are designed like small web pages using HTML to avoid the pitfalls of having endless varieties of email clients. A tool like Litmus is a great and mostly free way to support these efforts.

Email: The Ugly

Spam Filters & Spam Laws
We saved spam for last because in a way, it’s actually a hidden advantage. Nobody wants unsolicited emails, and there are even federal regulations that punish spammers trying to clutter your inbox. That being said, emails are a permission-based communication. Your recipients need to give express permission to contact them via email. When students fill out your inquiry form, they’re similarly giving their permission to be contacted. Make sure you let them know that though! We even recommend an emailthat allows them to confirm their opt-in. So right off the bat you know you’re at least communicating with prospects who are open to the idea of receiving information about your institution.
Hopefully, this list has given you an insight into the pros and cons of email marketing for higher education and you’ll be able to decide whether to invest in this channel.

Want to see your university grow with more targeted marketing? Partnering with EducationDynamics allows you to grow without having to expand. Learn more about EducationDynamics’ Higher Education Marketing offerings today.

* Data from Higher Education Digital Marketing Trends, 2017